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This little gem of a French thriller is yet to be discovered in the US. I hope it does make it here because it is a throwback to the types of thrillers France was producing in the 70's such as any movie from Jean-Pierre Melville. It is very stylish, gritty, filled with strong yet ambiguous characters, and a true villain of epic proportions. Those films have played a great influence to the new generation of Hong Kong Directors emerging in the late 80's (John Woo most notably) and it's interesting to see this influence circle back as this film borrows a lot from those Hong Films too in terms of editing and pace.
Leo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Denis Klein (Gerard Depardieu) are old timers at the French Police's Criminal Investigations Division (the French equivalent to UK's Scotland Yard) and both are next in line for the top spot. However, similarities stop there for those two men who were friends once. Leo is a great cop, with very tough ways of dealing with crime, but always with the utmost honesty and respect for the institutions. His successes have ensured him promotions to the high ranks of the division, but his maverick ways have often rubbed the powerful people above him the wrong way. In contrast, Denis is a bitter man and a corrupt yet slick political man with seemingly not an ounce of honesty. He schemes, drinks, makes fatal mistakes and feels no remorse, but he always succeeds in placing the blame on someone else and escaping unscathed through events that would have destroyed professionally any other man. During a crackdown for which the two men were forced to collaborate, Denis makes a fatal mistake and Leo ends up taking the blame. Demoted and sent in prison, he watches silently as Denis gets promoted to the top spot of the division. But revenge, or rather Justice, only has to wait until Leo gets out and Denis' proverbial skeletons in the closet surface.
This is a classic tale of corruption and good cop Vs. bad cop. Director Olivier Marchal is an ex cop, and it shows. The film is full of insider details and gives you a very rich account of what's going on. You feel throughout like you are watching the inside story of the rise of a corrupt official, with all the injustice, outrage and frustration that ensue for the good cop who is suffering the consequences. Leo's tale is harrowing as he sees his family completely dissolve due to the Denis' machinations. Each time Denis succeeds, and Leo has a setback, you feel like being in a slingshot being pulled back. Every bad deed that Denis accumulates has got to eventually catch up with him. Will Denis ultimately win completely, or will the slingshot finally fire and Leo get his revenge. The ending is so satisfying, but not without surprises and a healthy dose of suspense all the way to the end.
Filled with classic antagonist characters, big corruption at the highest levels of a country's top law enforcement agency, yet driven completely by personal and intimate stories, this film is an epic story at its core. Filmed with great precision, and adorned with a lush art direction, the film is also very good on the eye. Top performances from the two leading actors, and the supporting cast, round up to make this a must-see for fans of well constructed thrillers. For a new generation of movie goers who grew up on Hong Kong films, it's a great way to get acquainted in concept and structure with the source material, albeit in an indirect way.
- Laurent Hasson